By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – The Idaho Steelheads are in the midst of something special.
Idaho entered the ECHL playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the National Conference. Since then, it has eliminated the No. 5-seeded Stockton Thunder and the Las Vegas Wranglers, who were not only the No. 1 seed in the conference, but also had the best regular-season record in the ECHL.
If that wasn’t enough, Idaho traveled to the Alaska Aces’ home ice and stole the first two games of the National Conference finals Monday and Tuesday night. Winning games in Alaska is no easy feat. Alaska not only had the second-best regular-season record in the ECHL, but it also had the top home record, putting up an impressive mark of 28-6-2 at Sullivan Arena.
Now Idaho is just two wins away from playing in the Kelly Cup Finals as it returns to Qwest Arena for three games. Game 3 is at 7:10 Friday night, Game 4 is Sunday night and Game 5, if necessary, would be played Tuesday night.
If the Steelheads stopped to think about it, they’d have to admit that they’re on an impressive run in this postseason.
But don’t expect them to acknowledge it.
“No, we’re just playing one game at a time right now,” Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said. “There’s still a lot of hockey to be played in this series.”
He doesn’t have to convince his players of that.
“We’ve really achieved nothing yet,” Steelheads veteran Scott Burt (pictured) said. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
He said the team can use last year’s playoffs to ward off any thoughts of complacency. Idaho had a 3-1 series lead in the first round against Las Vegas before the Wranglers rallied to win three in a row to eliminate Idaho.
But this is a new year and the Steelheads are making a pretty strong case that they won’t exit these playoffs quietly.
Forward Lance Galbraith (18 points) and captain Marty Flichel (15) are first and second in the ECHL in points scored during the playoffs, and rookie defenseman Lars Helminen (14) moved into a tie for third with a goal in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Goalie Steve Silverthorn has the most wins (10) and is tied for the most shutouts (3) in the playoffs. His goals-against average of 1.65 is second only to Joey Martin of Trenton, who played in just three postseason games.
“In order to win in the playoffs, you have to have everyone contributing,” Laxdal said.
And the Steelheads have had just that.
Idaho has won six of its past seven games. They have also gone 6-2 on the road this postseason, not that the Steelheads aren’t happy to have a few home games on the horizon.
“When you get that seventh player on the ice and everybody’s loud and everybody’s crazy, it puts chills through your body,” Burt said.
Maybe, just maybe, he can experience the kind of chills he had when the Steelheads won the Kelly Cup in 2004.
“Hopefully we can get that rink full, and kind of get that feeling going that we had a few years ago,” Burt said.